Click Clack Cadillac Club
Veronica Randolph Batterson
Remembering my favorite teacher, Mrs. Edwards, was no difficult task. She was a tall, slender woman with short, white, highly teased hair and tanned legs that were always visible underneath the shortest of mini dresses. The length and shape of her legs were accentuated by high-heeled sandals, which were color-coordinated to match every outfit. She always wore open-toed sandals, even in winter, which exposed to the world and to her sixth grade students the brightest painted toenails ever to behold. Her lipstick generally matched her outfit, sometimes hot pink or ruby red, but if she wore a color in which no coordinating lipstick existed, such as lime green, then she safely stuck with ruby red for her lips. Her motto was “Never put on lipstick in public,” although we caught her doing just that at her desk one day after lunch. Her contrite response was, “Sometimes it’s okay.” We forgave her.
I loved listening to her walk. Her high heels made little click clack noises along the tiled hallway as she traveled from one place to the next. Those sandals announced Mrs. Edwards’ impending arrival, departure, and travel time and we knew just how many staccato click clacks it took her to get from the library to our classroom. “Thirty-two” we cried in unison as she strolled into the room, smile on her face, beaming at us as if we were the most important people on the planet. Sometimes there would be a break in the click clacks and a suspended silence left us on the edge of our seats until they resumed and we could begin counting once more. Oftentimes it meant she had just stopped at the water fountain for a drink or was having a brief chat with a fellow teacher.
The scent of perfume didn’t linger very long on Mrs. Edwards. It was overpowered by other odors. She smelled of cigarette smoke and Halls cough drops, often sucking on the strong-smelling adult candy non-stop throughout the day. Occasionally she suffered coughing fits and immediately popped a drop in her mouth to ease the hacking. She never allowed any of this to interrupt her care for us and we loved her just the same, even if we knew she smoked like a chimney.
Her favorite topic of conversation, outside of our studies, always included her only child, Steven Bruce. Daily we heard tales regarding the mischievous antics of her young adult son. As a youngster, he played practical jokes on his own teachers but was so wonderful that he was always forgiven for his naughty behavior. He was also fearless and brave, once risking his own life to rescue a person trapped in a burning building. Of course he was handsome, debonair, single and drove all the young ladies wild. We knew all of this was true, not because we had ever met Steven Bruce, but because he was our favorite teacher’s offspring. Nothing less would be accepted.
We square danced every Friday after lunch in our classroom. It was something Mrs. Edwards believed in doing, and she said it was a necessary introduction for socializing between the boys and the girls. It wasn’t something I actually enjoyed but I endured it. I didn’t like holding a boy’s hand, and I suspected the boys didn’t particularly get a thrill out of holding mine. The only time I could really tolerate square dancing was when my partner was Roger. He didn’t seem to mind if my palms were sweaty as his were too. But Mrs. Edwards alternated partners every week, so we all had to take turns so that every girl was paired with each boy at least once. It was during these times I sometimes felt my favorite teacher was too concerned with the socializing. I couldn’t wait for the square dancing to end and when it did I rapidly rubbed the palms of my hands up and down my pant legs, as if to wipe away all the unwanted boy germs I had just come in contact with. Then the admiration for my teacher returned and all was forgotten until the next Friday.
One afternoon as I was waiting in line for the school bus to take me home, I caught a rare glimpse of Mrs. Edwards leaving for the day. She was driving the biggest and flashiest red Cadillac I had ever seen. With the windows down and a fashionable, color-coordinated scarf tied around her head to protect her hair, it appeared she had just driven right out of some Hollywood movie. Sunglasses shaded her eyes and her brightly painted lips broke into the widest of smiles as she saw her school children waiting for the bus. She waved enthusiastically and drove off. I watched that car drive away until it was out of sight, dreaming of what it would be like to live the life of my glamorous teacher.
My friends and I decided to honor Mrs. Edwards by creating the Click Clack Cadillac Club at recess one day. The only requirement to join was an undying and passionate devotion to our dear teacher, and it was girls only. No boys were allowed. None were really interested, however, except for Roger who really didn’t have any friends anyway and always hung out with the girls. So an exception was made for him and he was allowed entry into our secret world of make-believe. We pretended to be Mrs. Edwards, walking around on the tips of our toes, imitating her wearing the high heels that made the click clacking sound we all loved. We imagined the Cadillac too, the big glorious car that none of our parents owned or could afford, yet one we all wanted. It must have been amusing to the casual onlooker seeing about a dozen girls and Roger impersonating our teacher by walking around on our toes and making click clack utterances with our mouths. Of course, no one would have known what we were doing, but it probably appeared we were trying to be chickens or ducks with the sounds we were making. We didn’t care, click clacking all recess long, mimicking the idol through our imaginations.
I will forever remember one occasion. Mrs. Edwards presented to our class a challenge. There was a city-wide poster contest promoting litter awareness and she asked each of us to enter. It was very exciting for me as I was the unofficial class artist. I loved to draw and was forever creating pages of characters for my classmates. So I gleefully entered, never realizing that I had the slightest chance of winning. It was Mrs. Edwards’ encouragement that spurred me into doing the best I could and the hard work paid off. I won. The reward was a trophy and my picture in the local newspaper. But the best part for me was being in the same photograph with my teacher. Only Mrs. Edwards, my poster, and I graced the morning pages of our city’s paper and I felt a bond with the woman who was every sixth grade girl’s idol.
Shortly after my win, Mrs. Edwards wasn’t at school for a number of days. Days turned into weeks without our teacher and no one knew the reason for her extended absence. Each morning we rushed into class hoping to find our perfectly matched instructor waiting to greet us with open arms, telling us how much she missed us. Instead waiting for us was the same uninspiring substitute teacher who possessed little imagination and even less patience. Unbelievably, I began to miss square dancing on Fridays because it was strictly an event that Mrs. Edwards endorsed.
We ultimately learned the cause of our dear teacher’s departure. Her son had been killed in a tragic automobile accident. He had been driving his Corvette too fast one evening on a rain-slick highway and lost control of the car. Poor, beautiful Steven Bruce, our favorite teacher’s favorite son was no longer with her, as our special teacher was no longer with us. Mrs. Edwards lost the ability to teach, it was rumored, because she was unable to accept the loss of her child. Her grief was much too great.
We never saw Mrs. Edwards again. Our Click Clack Cadillac Club continued, but the spirit in which it was created diminished as enthusiasm for our teacher was replaced by extreme loss. Our sixth grade class finished that school year looking forward to junior high school but minus an exuberant full year of Mrs. Edwards. She was missed.
Veronica Randolph Batterson, formerly from Tennessee, is a freelance writer and antique dealer living in the Chicago area.
© Veronica Randolph Batterson